Defining Health Equity

In May 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report titled “What is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make?” with the purpose “stimulate discussion and promote greater consensus about the meaning of health equity and the implications for action within the Culture of Health Action Framework.” In doing so, the authors identify crucial elements to guide effective action. The way we define health equity is important as it reveals the values and beliefs that are used to make decisions, justify actions, and promote policies.

The document provides a general definition of health equity:

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

In pointing out the importance of measurement for accountability, the authors added the following:

For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.

With those definitions as a starting point the report offers :

  • Series of definitions for different audiences
  • Explanation of key concepts
  • Criteria for defining health equity
  • Discussion of steps to advancing health equity
  • Guiding principles
  • Glossary of terms often arising in health equity discussions

See a summary of the report.

Download the report, Braveman P, Arkin E, Orleans T, Proctor D, and Plough A. What Is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make? Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017.

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